Colombia to Clontarf: On the Deadly Trail of the Cocaine That Killed Gerry; How the Tentacles of the Trade in 'White Gold' Spread from the Jungles of South America to a Bar or Nightclub near You

Daily Mail (London), December 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

Colombia to Clontarf: On the Deadly Trail of the Cocaine That Killed Gerry; How the Tentacles of the Trade in 'White Gold' Spread from the Jungles of South America to a Bar or Nightclub near You


Byline: SPECIAL INVESTIGATION by Brian Carroll

GERRY RYAN was living a staggering double life, consuming cocaine for at least 16 years, and in such quantities that he could no longer survive on his after-tax income of around [euro]5,000 a week.

If reports are correct, his voracious appetite for cocaine cost him as much as [euro]2,000 a week.

While many dispute these claims, the inescapable reality of the evidence at his inquest is that he was a regular user of cocaine, and that it killed him. Taking the drug for 16 years brought him into contact with characters embedded in the international drugs trade.

Like the 29,000 other regular cocaine users in Ireland, Gerry ryan may have regarded it as a recreational drug, but cocaine isn't called White Gold for nothing. It's a trade worth [euro]59.5billion a year, and Harvard University research says two-thirds of cocaine deaths annually are caused by homicide and suicide.

Detectives say ryan was getting his cocaine from a dealer three or four steps removed from Fat Freddie Thompson, a 30-year-old violent psychopath at the centre of the tit-fortat gangland killings which have ravaged the working-class heartlands of Drimnagh, Crumlin, Kimmage and Finglas. In the global trade for White Gold, Thompson is just a tiny player, but, like end users such as Gerry Ryan, he forms a vital link in the chain from Colombia to Clontarf.

The White Gold business begins in the dense forests of Colombia, where peasants in the pay of FARC guerillas pick the coca leaves that form the base paste from which cocaine is made. FARC - the self-styled revolutionary armed Forces of Colombia, which has less than 9,000 members - was largely responsible for the 16,000 murders in the country in 2008. With a population of 45million, Colombia has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and more than 17 per cent of the population lives in 'extreme poverty'.

Colombia produces more than half of the 865 tons of cocaine consumed every year. FARC guerillas, who, going back to the early Nineties have connections to the Ira, control the distribution, taxing everyone along the chain. FARC's ruling council, called estado Mayor, has been imposing a 'tax' on each stage of cocaine production for nearly 20 years now. Everyone in the drugs trade pays a tithe - a percentage tax - to FARC: The peasant farmers producing the coca paste; the laboratory workers who add chemicals to the peasant's paste to make cocaine powder; and the South american gangs who export the drugs to Venezuala, and on to the U.S. and Europe, feeding the world's 13.4million cocaine users.

According to the Colombia Drugs Observatory, 2.2million hectares of forest have been cleared in Colombia to produce the plant known as Erythroxylum coca. In homemade paste pits known as pozos, peasant farmers add up to 12 chemicals - known as the dirty dozen - to dried coca leaves, grinding them into coca paste.

The Colombia Drugs Observatory, and BBC reporters in Colombia, both report that cement is sometimes added as a thickening agent, along with sulphuric acid, ammonia, sodium carbonate, and kerosene.

Coca paste is so commonplace that national Geographic magazine found Colombian farmers using it to buy food in local shops, because, despite relatively low inflation of 3.8 per cent, paste is still considered more reliable than their local currency, the Colombian peso. A peasant farmer can make [euro]300 profit on a kilogram of cocaine paste, twice the monthly minimum wage.

The farmer sells a kilo of paste for [euro]750 but [euro]450 of this goes on his costs, and taxes to FARC. The paste, an offwhite to brown putty-like substance, is then converted into cocaine. In other countries such as Bolivia the paste is converted into a cocaine base first and then into cocaine hydrochloride, but in Colombia, they convert the paste into cocaine hycrochloride in laboratories hidden deep in forests.

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